1. The price of cereal at Gourmet Heaven.
2. The 'tudes of the women who work in the law school cafeteria.
3. Franzen's The Corrections, The Land Before Time franchise, any rap CD with skits, Anne Hathaway's career (ERC finds her toothy and smarmy).
Classics of the Western canon? Not so much--at least, not in the eyes of the "indignant literary purists" cited in this Times UK article, which describes a recent line of "Compact Editions" released by a UK publisher called the Orion Group. The heavily abridged books, which rewrite novels like Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, and David Copperfield, promise to eliminate the excessive "padding" one encounters in canonical texts. "You're not supposed to say this," said the publisher, "but I think that one of the reasons Jane Austen always does so well in reader polls is that her books aren't that long."
At first, I thought I had come across a decidedly un-funny British version of the Onion. I mean, really? The editor, who is quoted as saying things like "We realized that life is too short to read all the books you want to and we were never going to read these," begs to be portrayed by Hugh Grant (screenwriter's notes: foppish womanizer, devilish grin), with the role of the independent bookseller--"It's completely ridiculous--a daft idea!"--going to a foxily taciturn Colin Firth. But people seem to have warmed up to the idea, at least in the "comments" section that follows the article (Reading the comments sections of online media is often more enjoyable than reading the articles, as they often devolve into incoherent conflict or sexual intrigue).
"If one really loves literature and wish to see it thrive, then it would seem to me one would be overjoyed to see people reading the classics--even if it's an abridged version. I'd much rather see someone read an abridged version of Moby Dick, than watch a few weeks of Survivor." -Dar, Macomb, ILIt goes without saying that this is an overtly silly concept; because the meaning, or value, of literature inheres in both its content and its form, making severe changes to the latter while conserving most of the former is still tantamount to complete artistic revision. More interesting, I think, is asking what even positing the idea says about why we read, or about contemporary culture's attitude towards literature. Severely abridging "difficult" texts serves two purposes:
1. It makes such works accessible to groups that lack the necessary education or time to comprehend them.
2. It thrusts our experience of literature into the material realm, fully implicating books as objects of commercial exchange.
The second justification, or the commercialization of of "having read," speaks to a larger phenomenon in consumer culture that's more difficult to address. If people view War and Peace and Crime and Punishment as notches on their literary bedposts, then more power to them, so long as they've actually read the texts rather than the Great Illustrated Classics. Fetishizing books as titles, after all, will most likely translate into an inability to speak intelligently about the ideas they convey.
The first justification--which addresses a dilemma that's similar to the "incommensurability" problem of public art that I discussed earlier--raises a question that deserves consideration, but poses a flawed solution. While it's a worthy cause to facilitate the dissemination of high culture to the lowly masses, such works should not be abridged and revised--essentially, lowered--to meet the public; the general reader should be hoisted to their level. Widespread structural changes (i.e., better public education) aside, a feasible way of promoting such cultural uplifting is, as with the the "better wall text" I advocated for public sculpture, the improvement and aestheticization of "packaging"--materials that are auxiliary to the texts. Although the practice is relatively rare, newspapers still publish serials of contemporary fiction; why can't publishers print segmented versions of the classics (if they want to alleviate the aesthetic concerns raised by the second justification, or eliminate the stigma of reading an "easy" version, imprints could bury the segmented/explicated nature of the text in the interior)? And shouldn't there be a way of deftly inserting explanatory material without resorting to pages and pages of academic footnotes?
I'm interested in hearing plausible solutions and suggestions for this...